12 December 2001
Anglican-Methodist Covenant published
The official report of the Formal Conversations between the Church of England and the Methodist Church is published today, 12 December 2001. It proposes a national covenant between the two churches.
The Covenant, if accepted by both churches, would be a mutual affirmation for the first time of the life and ministry of each other's churches. It could then be likened to an engagement to be married. It would be a formal, joint commitment to work together towards fuller visible unity, reflecting nationally what is already the case in many local situations. It would open up new ways of working together. During the next stage of the growing relationship, both churches would strive to remove the remaining obstacles to fuller visible unity.
Those involved in the Formal Conversations were appointed by the governing bodies of the two churches and the group also included ecumenical participants from the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Moravian Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the United Reformed Church.
The report is important for its method and direction as well as for its immediate outcome. Both churches are committed to seeking unity by stages, so that the present report is but one stage of a longer journey. If the Covenant is adopted the two churches will be in a new place on their journey but with further work to do.
The report revisits the interlocking histories of the two churches over two and a half centuries and seeks to dispel the stereotypes and caricatures each church holds of the other. It is realistic about the hurt and frustration caused by the failure of previous attempts to enter into a closer relationship. But it also argues that relationships between Methodists and Anglicans are now stronger than ever in many parts of church life.
It answers those who say that the search for unity is a distraction from the Church's calling to share in the worship and work of God. It claims that mission and unity are inseparable from each other.
The report is described as a Common Statement - an indication of the degree of common ground the group found as it explored the different features of visible unity:
- A common profession of the fundamental Christian faith grounded in Scripture and expressed in the ecumenical creeds of the Church;
- The sharing of one baptism and the celebrating of one Eucharist;
- A common ministry of Word and Sacraments; and
- A common ministry of oversight
The report does not gloss over the fact that Anglicans and Methodists have different emphases and different ways of expressing their faith. It also recognises differences of practice and some areas where further work needs to be done. These include issues to do with the ministry and leadership of women in the Church and matters of order and practice about the Eucharist.
The conclusion, however, is that now is the right time to take a further step on the journey towards unity. The report concludes by setting out the terms of the proposed Covenant and making recommendations to the governing bodies of the two churches: the General Synod of the Church of England and the Methodist Conference. They will receive the Report at their meetings in July 2002.
They are being recommended to commend it for study and response throughout both churches and to partner churches in Britain and Ireland, including a particular reference to the United Reformed Church with whom both churches have been engaged in trilateral informal conversations.
It would then be for the Methodist Conference and the General Synod, subject to the support of the two churches, and in the light of responses from partner churches, to enter into the Covenant on the basis of the understandings reached in the Common Statement.
Note: The full report 'An Anglican-Methodist Covenant: Common Statement of the Formal Conversations between the Methodist Church of Great Britain and the Church of England' (ISBN 1 85852 218 8) is published jointly by Methodist Publishing House (PB140) and Church House Publishing (GS1409). Each copy costs £4.25.